Unacquired: That Time We Sold Our Digital Agency & Then Bought It Back

Unacquired: That Time We Sold Our Digital Agency & Then Bought It Back

At the end of 2016, we sold BuzzShift. This acquisition seemed like the culmination of all our work building the company over the previous seven years; a way for our digital startup to really grow as part of a much larger agency. 10 months later, we bought it back. 

Needless to say, it was a learning experience for everyone involved. We don’t regret going through the process, and we’re now wiser and stronger because of it.

Now that we’re back with what we’re calling BuzzShift 2.0, here are a few insights for other business owners who may be facing similar decisions.

 

A little Q&A with Our Co-Founders

 

Cameron Gawley and Eddy Badrina - BuzzShift

BuzzShift Co-founders, Cameron Gawley & Eddy Badrina at WeWork Uptown

Why did you sell BuzzShift?

We saw the potential in joining a larger, traditional firm like Ivie, getting to work with larger clients, and hopefully helping the team there transition some of their traditional clients over to digital.

The fastest-growing brands in the world are digitally-led brands, but they’re not limited to only using digital channels. Being a part of a more holistic marketing play with brands, which included everything from print ads to in-store signage, was something very important to us. Ivie allowed us that opportunity.  

 

Why did you buy it back?

Like many relationships, you go into it with the best of intentions and on the same page. In the end, though, it simply didn’t work out the way either party thought it would, so we decided to amicably part ways.

 

What lessons did you learn?

There were several big takeaways:

  1. Companies start and end with culture. BuzzShift has a unique culture. We’re very flexible in how we work with clients; when we work; where we work (in terms of being remote or in the office); and even in the types of jobs that each person can fulfill (such as moving from project management to operations, or shifting from graphic design to creative strategy). It’s difficult to assimilate into another organization without losing some of that company culture.
  2. Our team is everything. Very early on at BuzzShift, we focused on ways to create, maintain, and grow a great team. Hiring slowly. Firing quickly, when firing was needed. Instilling high autonomy and even higher responsibility. Creating an environment that promotes authenticity and honesty. We didn’t try to create a family; we took a professional sports approach and tried to create the best team to put out on the field. Team members change, grow, and move on, but we always tried to grow the quality of the organization, so we could better attract high-performing team players.
  3. Looking back, we realize how fortunate we are. Consider the odds:

In short, we hit every milestone we could have in seven years. That’s mainly due to the team we have had the good fortune of hiring. And that goes back to culture. See lessons #1 and #2.

 

BuzzShift Workspace in Lights at WeWork Uptown Dallas

How did this experience change your view on owning a business?

It made us all the more thankful that we could run our own firm. And being a part of a larger company made us appreciate how much tougher it is to scale a small business up and manage it through all the growth transitions. Being a leader in a huge organization is tough sledding, with difficult decisions that are far reaching. It’s no joke.

 

What is BuzzShift 2.0? How is it different from the old BuzzShift?

In some ways, BuzzShift 2.0 is the same as it ever was: fantastic people, great culture, great clients, and a dynamic quality of work. But in other facets, BuzzShift 2.0 is totally different: we’re leaner, more nimble, and even more focused on the future of digital marketing. Our mission of helping businesses grow hasn’t changed, but our digital strategies and tools continue to evolve as the market does.

 

 

Why move to a coworking space (WeWork)?        

For us, it was about flexibility and agility. We needed to figure out how BuzzShift 2.0 would function and operate as a business model, so we had to have an office arrangement that was highly flexible. WeWork didn’t lock us into a 3-5 year contract usually associated with commercial leases, so that allows us to stay nimble and grow as needed. They take care of all the operational logistics that added hours back to our day (utilities, internet, snacks, etc), so it gives us more headspace to work on the business, not in it.

Being heavily connected into the community of other entrepreneurs, tech startups, agencies, and like-minded people is another major benefit of officing in WeWork.

BuzzShift Dallas Digital Marketing Agency Acquisition

Common Space at WeWork Uptown Dallas – BuzzShift

What advice would you give someone who was considering selling their business or getting acquired?

Talk to a good cross-section of business owners in your space. We had great wisdom and input from other techrelated founders and advisers whom we trust, and have known personally for years. We didn’t have to go into details with them, but just the fact that they knew our industry/space, and our business model, helped us a great deal.

Also, a good accountant and a business attorney are both worth every penny. Don’t skimp on those in the beginning of your venture, and don’t try and minimize their value at the end.

 

Would you do it again (get acquired)? If so, what would you do differently this time?

Under the right circumstances, we would be open to it, but we probably need a little break before the next one! The difference would be that we have an acquisition under our belt, so we have a better sense of what to look for now in terms of due diligence, and we will have our expectations dialed in more accurately.

BuzzShift Team

That’s it for now, but stay tuned for more thoughts and insights about where digital marketing is headed. Feel free to connect with us on social, or drop us a question in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Our amazing Madison Mentesana

What Happens At Pubcon Doesn’t Stay At Pubcon

What Happens At Pubcon Doesn’t Stay At Pubcon

Several BuzzShifters went to Las Vegas for Pubcon 2013. They haven’t all disclosed exactly what they did while in Vegas, but they did bring back some useful insights from the conference itself.

Here Michael, Mark, and Will share some of their thoughts about the value of Pubcon, and what they gained from the experience.

From Michael Stancil, Director of Search:

Pubcon, it’s definitely one of those conferences you HAVE to go to at least once in your life if you’re in the search/content industry, there’s just so much to learn. This is my second year that I’ve gone to Pubcon Vegas, and I can say with 100% assurance that I’ll definitely be back next year!

My first year was more about taking in the entire Pubcon experience, and trying to go to as many relevant sessions as possible within the confines of a day. Additionally, Pubcon is a great time to actually hear all of the well-known industry bloggers….speak.

While I learned a lot last year, this year was all about being more targeted, and going to the sessions that really mattered to what I do, or had curiosities about. Luckily, I was able to go to a session for every available slot on each day, so I’d consider that a win. As for my focus this year? Paid Search, Display Advertising, and SEO Audits; pretty focused, I’d say.

Did it work? Did I learn something? Indeed I did. The biggest thing is with SEO, while there are “over-arching” principles, everyone has a little bit different way of doing things. Learning from those and adding them to your own skill set, especially when it comes to SEO audits, translates to better results for your clients—which means happy clients, and subsequently a happy agency. With regards to paid search and display, Brad Geddes is a walking AdWords information mine, and I’ve never left one of his sessions without learning something new.

My verdict? Another successful year, especially given the fact that I’m still digesting what I learned, and it’s been a week since I’ve been back. The best part is that you get the presentation decks, and as long as you paid attention in the session, it’s a great resource after the fact! So if you’re on the fence about a search conference to go to, Pubcon should definitely be that conference, in addition to the State of Search conference in Dallas, because two conferences a year is good for you!

From Mark Barrera, Chief Search Officer:

As always, I enjoyed my time at Pubcon. This year definitely had a different feel with the vast changes coming from Google over the last 12 months. The good news is that these changes have allowed us SEOs to focus on the real things that matter in marketing. Content, brand building, and staying away from ‘search engine trickery’ are all things that were emphasized, and rightfully so. For so long SEOs have been able to game the system, but now it all comes down to the assets you produce and how you promote them.

From Will Edmonson, Search Analyst:

Pubcon was my first search marketing conference (I’ve been to SXSWi but that covers a broader spectrum), and I found it both refreshing and inspiring to meet with people who do the same kind of work as I do on a daily basis, and more importantly, run into the same struggles and problems that search marketing can bring. For example, take WordPress itself. If there isn’t one already, there could be a whole conference about WordPress and how to do SEO on that platform. But at Pubcon I was able to attend two talks centered solely around using WordPress, and not on a basic level, but from experts who had a lot to offer concerning ways to improve how I use the platform. Anyway, I digress.

Here are a few insights from the  conference:

  • With Penguin rolling through, search marketing is starting to scoot closer to content marketing. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise for anyone.
  • Link building will have to become more personal, more diplomatic with other websites (read: harder work but hey, it’ll be less monotonous), and less focused on directories. Again, no surprise.
  • Google will rank higher personal profiles and content from people it knows as real people. This means author profiles, rel=author tags, etc. The days of internet anonymity are over. Create a personal brand and a content matrix of topics around your name. You’re a brand interacting with other brands now.
  • In-house SEOs live a much different life than agency SEOs. The challenges are different and those two kinds of SEOs need to be aware of what it’s like doing search marketing in those environments to better communicate and work together.
  • If you’re an SEO who hasn’t gone to a conference, you need to convince your boss that you need to go. It’ll keep you sharp and inspire you to grow in areas where you might have blind spots, and it’ll help you get on board future trends.
  • Vegas is a special place. Don’t plan on getting a lot of sleep or doing a lot of outdoorsy stuff while you’re there. Also, if you’re an introvert, this may not be the best town for you.

 

Five insights should be plenty. Best of luck, SEOs.

Up next: State of Search, on Monday, November 18 right here in Dallas. If you’re there, check out both Mark and Michael’s presentations.

3 Steps To Hiring Your First Employee

3 Steps To Hiring Your First Employee

“People aren’t your most important asset. The RIGHT people are.” – Jim Collins

“There are only two things in this world that grow for growth’s sake: cancer cells and bureaucracy.” – Eddy Badrina, paraphrasing Edward Abbey

Recently I read Good to Great by Jim Collins [affiliate link], which talks about commonalities in companies that grew in excellence and market share compared to their competitors. As I read through the chapter on the team-building within these companies that “made the leap”, I was surprised (and a little comforted) that we were following the same concepts in how we are growing Buzzshift. We have had only one mutual parting of ways in our 3+ years of being in business, and as we grow, we are confident that our “churn” rate will be virtually non-existent. Why? It starts with purpose.

Cameron and I always make sure we have the purpose for Buzzshift as our “north star”, which is to make our client-partners smarter and more effective online. As Peter Drucker once said, “Profit… is the result of doing things right rather than the purpose of business activity.” If we are sticking to our purpose, then, it is essential to hire the right people, no matter the timeframe, and no matter how much pressure we have on us to grow.

With that purpose in mind, we’ve developed three relatively simple steps to hiring:

1. Identify Cultural fit.
2. Identify Strengths fit.
3. Identify Functional fit.

How To Hire Your First Employee: 3 Steps To Ensure The Perfect Fit

Cultural fit. We believe this is the most important, and the hardest, piece to fill. Our core values include: being early adopters, having a curious approach to life, being proactively helpful, and doing everything with excellence and “polish”. We also have a LOT of fun doing what we do, which you can readily see on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages. Why do we post all that? Because we believe our core values and unique culture attracts likeminded individuals (and potential clients-partners). We don’t want convince people to work for us; we want the right individuals to be drawn to working alongside us. Drawing the right people in is the easiest way to start to identify cultural fit. It’s also why we are diligent in networking, because it allows us to come into contact and identify potential hires in a slow, organic, relational way. We take our time in hiring because we allow ourselves time and space to hire.

How To Hire Your First Employee: 3 Steps To Ensure The Perfect Fit

Strengths fit. I was a psychology major, and the Myers Briggs played a huge part in helping me identify my career path coming out of college. Later on in life, the Strengthsfinder test by Gallup [affiliate link] further helped me in determining what my particular character strengths were. At Buzzshift, we have found that Strengthsfinder has been essential in identifying what each person on the team brings to the table. We give the test and the book to EVERY applicant and intern that we interview. Aside from helping us to see past a resume, it provides the interviewee with something tangible they can use down the road, even attaching to the back of their resume or adding it to their bio. We believe it’s the best $20 we can spend in the hiring process, and it’s one of the best $20 gifts anyone gets for spending some time with us. In fact, we can’t think of another company that gives a gift of any kind to applicants!

We go one step further and combine it with the Strengths Based Leadership book [affiliate link], which helps us identify how to utilize people within our team and where to place them. Those two books have been crucial in successfully building and developing the team, as well as showing us areas where we need more leadership.

How To Hire Your First Employee: 3 Steps To Ensure The Perfect Fit

Functional fit. This is simply roles and responsibilities, skill sets like knowledge of Excel, social media savviness, and experience with keyword research and SEO tools. It’s the basic reason we hire, but it is not the essence of what we look for, nor the true nature of why we hire. You’d be surprised at how little we look at a resume, and how much we listen for industry reputation, explore past work scenarios, and gauge their curiosity.

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Our Hiring Process

All together, our hiring process goes something like this:

Buzzshift-Employee-Hiring-Process

 

And this is our team thus far. We admit that we don’t know if this is scalable past 20 employees, but we are pretty sure that the three layers of “fit” will still apply. How are you hiring for your company? We are curious to hear how other companies are successfully growing and retaining their team.

Icons by Sven Gabriel, Dirk Unger, Dolly Vu, Ben Hsu, Thomas Le Bas, Lauren Gray, and Travis J. Lee of the Noun Project.